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January 27, 2002

The Nonpolitical Season

Dear Voters:

It certainly doesn't look like there will be much of a choice at the polls this year. We're only seven months and a week or two away from the primary election, and there are no serious announced primary candidates to challenge any of the following elected officials, all of whom are running for reelection: Mayor Anthony Williams; Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton; Council Chairman Linda Cropp; At-Large Councilmembers David Catania and Phil Mendelson; Councilmembers Graham (Ward 1), Patterson (Ward 3), Orange (Ward 5), and Ambrose (Ward 6); Board of Education Chair Peggy Cooper Cafritz; and Board of Education members Tommy Wells (District 3) and William Lockridge (District 4).

Is this a sign that DC voters are happy and satisfied, or that we are discouraged and hopeless? I don't think that the lack of candidates can be blamed on the federal government, though undoubtedly some will blame it on Congress. But which alternate explanation makes more sense: the perceived failure of home rule; the taint on serving in the District government continuing from the Barry years; the stagnation imposed by one-party rule; campaign financing from the business community which goes exclusively to incumbents; or a political culture in which everybody is reelected, if not for life, at least for the normal length of a full career? Or do you have another explanation?

Gary Imhoff 


Springlike Plans
Carol Bessette, Certified Master Tour Guide, 

Overlooked sights? This is a subject dear to my heart as a DC tour guide. I will be giving a presentation on this subject at the Pohick Regional Library in Fairfax County on June 20, 2002. You mentioned two good ones: 1) the Botanical Gardens: newly renovated, bright, sparkling, and colorful. For a brief period of time you can forget the forest of Jersey barriers and sewer pipe “defenses” surrounding our government buildings. 2) The National Zoo, not just for the pandas, but for the new babies — a baby elephant, a baby tiger, and a baby giraffe. Go and watch young families bring their toddlers for their first zoo experience; it is fun to watch.

Other thoughts (and remember that what you consider to be well-known may not be familiar to other people. As a tour guide working with local groups, I have learned that these places are not known, or visited, by many in our area.) 1) Lincoln Park. Check out a copy of James M. Goode's Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, DC at your local library, and read the history of the events and people involved in the two thought-provoking statues (the Emancipation Monument and the statue of Mary McLeod Bethune). 2) National Building Museum. One of the most magnificent legacies of the Civil War in Washington. Look closely at the frieze that encompasses the building. Try to start out by taking one of the excellent building tours offered by the docent staff, and then immerse yourself in their exhibits. Lunch and a wonderful museum shop on the site. You can easily spend a full day there. 3) Hillwood Museum and Gardens. A gem of the city, with its elegant home, and fabulous (literally) collection of Imperial Russian and French decorative art, which translates into items like Faberge eggs, the nuptial crown worn by the last Czarina, and the like. Tour the gardens, which are beautiful year-round. 4) The Washington National Cathedral. Yes, most of us have been there, perhaps for a “macro” view. Go and sit and watch the light on the columns change as the sunlight changes. Go and pick one item on which to concentrate and follow that item throughout the building -- examples: the wrought iron or the needlework. Visit the Bishop's Garden. 5) Fort Stevens. Stand where Lincoln stood (and came under fire) during the only direct attack on Washington during the Civil War. Try to imagine the scene at the time. Consider how the 19th Century Army engineers (who took advantage of the terrain for their fort system) never imagined we'd be using the same promontories for television towers. 6) Fort Ward (yes, it is Virginia, but as a tour guide, I know that tourism in Washington is a regional issue.) Visit for the best introduction to the complex Civil War fort system that guarded the nation's capital the last time it came under attack. 7) National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade. Not just for the technically inclined. Its depiction of code-making and code-breaking throughout history has particular meaning in light of recent headlines. (Note: it has reopened since 9/11, but only during the week. It plans to eventually reopen on Saturdays.) 8) The Navy Museum at the Navy Yard. One of the best museums in the area for young people. Lots of hands-on displays, and plenty for the older folk. Highly recommended. Call first because of security restrictions. 9) The National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Ditto on all counts, including calling. Also highly recommended. 10) Newseum (yes, Virginia again.) Visit it quickly; it will close in early March. However, Freedom Park and the Berlin Wall exhibit (outside) will remain open to the public. Both are excellent, especially the Berlin Wall display. See how one side (which faced West Berlin) was covered in graffiti, but the side which faced back into East Berlin was untouched by spray paint. See the East German guard house, at one time a truly menacing sight.

Other lesser-known DC museums worthy of a visit, or a repeat visit: 1) The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, 2) the Sewall-Belmont House, 3) Woodrow Wilson House, 4) the Textile Museum, 5) Anderson House, 6) the Octagon, 7) the Department of Interior Museum (I would call first). And this list is just a start!


Doing Good and Doing Well — Interactive Applications Group
Phil Shapiro, 

Back in 1995 I met two college grads volunteering their time at the Capital Children's Museum. In passing they told me they were starting their own web-design company, Interactive Applications Group (iapps), whose focus is to help national nonprofit organizations and foundations establish a strong web presence. True to their word, their company has flourished and encountered a string of successes. I'm so proud of what these fellows have been able to accomplish. If you visit the web site of the Meyer Foundation (one of the largest foundations in the DC area) or countless other entities working to better the human condition, you'll find iapps as the site designer., The icing on the cake? Last month the company's internal intranet won an award as one of the top ten intranets in the world.

Can one person change the world? You bet! Can a small group of dedicated web designer have a strongly positive impact on the nonprofit and foundation world, helping community builders extend their work even further? Even more so. Based here in DC. We're proud of 'em. (Note: I have no financial connections to the company. Just a bystander observing the company's growth.)


Hey Bill, Can Your Mother Cross This Intersection?
Ed T. Barron, 

In this week's District Section of the Post there is a piece in the Dr. Gridlock section about the intersection of 25th and K Streets, NW. Bill Rice notes that the walk signal is on for 27 seconds to allow pedestrians to safely cross the 115 foot intersection. Let me show you the math. To safely cross this intersection in 27 seconds one must walk at a pace of 5 feet per second. That equates to 2.9 miles per hour. Now that does not sound fast, but I can assure you that it is quite fast for older folks.

I walk a 2.7 mile course daily at a pace of 3.6 miles per hour, and that is a very brisk walk. I wonder if Bill Rice would like his mom to cross at that intersection the way it is currently set up. There are also complaints about drivers ignoring pedestrians crossing there and ignoring the red light. Seems to me that there are two solutions that should be implemented at this crossing: Add ten more seconds to the crossing light, and put some cops down there to ticket those who ignore the law. That would be both pedestrian and DC Treasury friendly.


David Catania, Our Next Mayor, Our Best Choice
Arthur H. Jackson, Jr., 

A bipartisan coalition of DC residents tired of ethics violations, corruption, and government incompetence and insensitivity to the needs of the people of this city are calling for the drafting of David Catania for Mayor of Washington, DC

We believe David Catania makes sense for DC more now than ever. We need a leader not afraid to tell corrupt DC officials we will not tolerate misuse of the public trust. From East of the River to Capitol Hill to the proposed towers in Ward 3, Tony Williams has violated the public trust and faces his own ethics questions.

Democrats serving on the Democratic State Committee are expected to announce a drive to encourage David Catania to seek the Democratic nomination for mayor. However, the group has committed to supporting Councilman Catania if Councilmember Kevin Chavous decides not to run. We urge all DC residents tired of this shameful administration to call David Catania's office and tell him we need him as Mayor now.


Presidential Champions for the District of Columbia
Mark David Richards, Dupont East, 

As George W. Bush prepares to make his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, I wondered what I’d like to hear him say about the District of Columbia. Since President George Washington established Washington City, Presidents have played an important role in advocating for or against the permanent residents of DC. Washington spent most of the 1790s preparing for the arrival of federal officials from Philadelphia in 1800. General Washington died eleven days after President Adams announced DC was ready for the 131 federal government officials to join the 14,093 residents of the areas of the District of Columbia. On December 14, 1799, Adams expressed the national sentiment toward the General: “For his fellow-citizens, if their prayers could have been answered, he would have been immortal.” In 1828, President’s Andrew Jackson urged Congress to allow DC residents to elect a nonvoting Delegate to that body “with the same privileges that are allowed to other territories of the United States.” President Martin Van Buren asked Congress to give “liberal and even generous attention to the interests o the District and a thorough and careful revision of its local government.” President William Henry Harrison championed DC in his Inaugural address on March 4, 1841. He said, “The people of the District of Columbia are not the subjects of the people of the States, but free American citizens. . . . [T]he legislation of Congress should be adapted to their peculiar position and wants and be conformable with their deliberate opinions of their own interests.”

In his 1843 message to Congress, President Tyler urged a parental relationship: “The seat of government of our associated republics cannot but be regarded as worthy of your parental care.” President James Knox Polk, told Congress, “I shall be ever disposed to show a proper regard for their [the people of this District] wishes and within constitutional limits shall at all times cheerfully cooperate with you for the advancement of their welfare.” In 1921, President Taft expressed a new sentiment in expressing his strong opposition to giving DC citizens the franchise and local self-government: “The truth is this is a city governed by a popular body, to wit, the Congress of the United States, selected from the people of the United States who own Washington.” In 1952, President Harry Truman expressed an opinion more typical of Presidents: “I strongly believe that the citizens of the District of Columbia are entitled to self-government . . . the right and the responsibility of free men. The denial of self-government does not befit the National Capital of the world’s largest and most powerful democracy. . . . [T]he structure of the District government has become so complicated, confused, and obsolete that a thorough reorganization cannot be further delayed.” President Eisenhower and Kennedy both asked Congress to grant DC Home Rule. The Senate was favorable, but powerful members of the House of Representatives opposed DC Home Rule, and President Johnson was a strong champion for DC. In this third State of the Union address in 1966, he said, “I urge the House of Representatives to complete action on three programs already passed by the Senate — the Teacher Corps, rent assistance, and home rule for the District of Columbia.” President Nixon in 1969 said, “The District’s citizens should not be expected to pay taxes for a government which they have no part in choosing — or to bear the full burdens of citizenship without the full rights of citizens.” In 1981, President Jimmy Carter said that DC had gained a greater degree of Home Rule than under the previous administration, he said, “Yet, despite the close cooperation between my Administration and that of Mayor Barry, we have not yet seen the necessary number of states ratify the Constitutional Amendment granting full voting representation in the Congress to the citizens of this city. It is my hope that this inequity will be rectified. The country and the people who inhabit Washington deserve.” Time to get approval for the amendment ran out under President Reagan. President Clinton endorsed DC statehood and worked with Congress on the 1997 revitalization plan, but he wasn’t a champion for DC in his State of the Union addresses. Will President George W. Bush mention DC on Tuesday?


Health Care Now
Sam Jordan, 

Health Care Now!, Washington, DC's, largest health care consumer advocacy organization, warns that the public interest may be unprotected in the wake of the announcement by CareFirst, the region's Blue Cross/Blue Shield holding company, that it will convert to for-profit status. CareFirst, like other Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans, has enjoyed tax exemptions and other taxpayer supported financial benefits since its creation in the late 30's. The public bestowed special status on the "Blues," as they are called, in return for coverage of the most underserved and difficult to insure populations. As nonprofit “insurers of last resort,” the Blues became trusted institutions synonymous with affordable, accessible health insurance.

Conversion requires an accurate estimate of the value accrued to CareFirst as a result of its multi-year special tax status. Upon conversion, that value is to be recaptured by the public in the form of a special fund devoted to charitable purposes to continue the Blue Cross/Blue Shield mission of public service. In addition, a conversion's impact on the insurance market and delivery of health care services must be examined closely, since conversions are often accompanied by the loss of insurance coverage among certain population groups. With approximately 3.1 million subscribers in Maryland, the District and Delaware, making it the premier health care insurer in the area, CareFirst alerted the District's Insurance Commissioner on Friday, January 11, that it seeks to convert from nonprofit to for-profit status as part of its plan to be acquired by Wellpoint, a California-based corporation. In response, Health Care Now! referred to the dismal record that the Mayor's office and the DC Council have established in monitoring the $500 million contract of the DC Healthcare Alliance, successors to the DC General Hospital system, as proof that the close attention such a conversion needs from public officials may not be readily available.

If the Mayor and the DC Council cannot account for the millions of dollars paid to the DC Healthcare Alliance, how can we expect them to guard the public's interest when a multi-billion dollar Wellpoint is calling the shots? At Health Care Now!, we feel justified in sounding a general alarm and warning the public that the conversion of CareFirst can have a disastrous impact on the delivery of health care services in the District without immediate due diligence from the DC Council and the Mayor's office. Because of Health Care NOW's concerns regarding proposed conversion, it has joined with other organizations in a coalition called CareFirst Watch. The coalition has taken several steps that would require DC regulators to assure that the conversion is in the public interest, and that full value is paid for CareFirst if a conversion is to be approved. For more information, contact Sam Jordan, 339-9341.


Killing the Goose that Could Lay Golden Eggs for Its Feathers
Len Sullivan, 

I am constantly amazed at the ability of single-issue activists to defeat their own purposes with counterproductive histrionics. The future of the inefficient, outmoded, ill-located DC General Hospital site is a case in point. The accusation repeatedly voiced at the Armory kickoff meeting on Jan 23rd that the DC government is insensitive to the needs of the poor is absurd. Well over half of DC's budget goes to low income residents. Improving the health and welfare of the poor is an expensive business that requires additional city revenues, efficiently spent. One good way to raise revenues is to increase the amount of land available for DC to develop, and put it to revenue-productive use. The highly desirable 67-acre river front parcel of federally-owned land on which DC General squats is capable of generating tax revenues of $200-$400M per year if turned over to DC and devoted to high density mixed commercial/residential use. It would also be a significant step towards greater DC revenues from its limited tax base.

A good share of any increased revenues should probably go towards improving public health care. But the city needs several smaller sites centrally located in poor neighborhoods to efficiently provide much needed clinical medical services. The oversized DC General site, backed up against the river, is not readily accessible to many who most need its services. However, DC owns as many as 300 acres of surplus land scattered around the city, mostly in poor neighborhoods but protected by other possessive activist groups. The DC Public School System is hanging on to, and planning the modernization of, enough school facilities for 100,000 students. But current enrollment has dropped to 66,000 and is preordained to drop close to 50,000 by a) the decline in city birth rates already realized over the past five years, and b) the migration to charter schools. Productive use of surplus DCPS properties could pay for a lot of its skyrocketing school system costs and make available properly situated public health clinic sites as well. Creative planning could develop much-needed synergism between improving health and improving education for the city's underprivileged kids, and its underprivileged adults as well. It's high time to replace negative emotionalism with constructive rationalism on this key issue.


The Crazies Versus Giant
Ed T. Barron, 

In a scenario reminiscent of the Spring Valley/AU Park battle against American University's Law School, A minority of self proclaimed activists who resist change in Cleveland Park are fighting expansion plans by the Giant supermarket on Wisconsin Avenue and Newark Street, NW. Giant has two options at this point. They can continue to fight and probably win in the courts (as did American University), or they can just sit tight and let the will of the majority of the people win out some time later. There is a third unlikely, but possible, option. Right now the Giant store is a profit making venture for Giant. With the additional space they have acquired being unusable, it may be less, or even unprofitable. The store could close under that unlikely scenario.

As is my bent when posting on problems, I offer the crazies that oppose change and the latest Giant proposal for their store in Cleveland Park a suggestion. Stop fighting and negotiate. Since this is a war that the Cleveland Park Citizens' Association will lose, they should negotiate now and gain something of value. Why not get Giant to make part of their expansion into a fitness/wellness center that would be open to the nearby residents in the area surrounding the proposed expanded Giant. This fitness center could occupy some of the space from the former G.C. Murphy store and open onto Wisconsin Avenue. Giant could also make some architectural changes to the side of the building that faces onto Wisconsin Avenue much like American University did on Massachusetts Avenue. This would be a major benefit to the neighborhood and result in a Giant that better serves the needs of that community.

Change, like other stuff, happens and is inevitable. When you are green you are growing, when you are ripe you rot.


School Campouts
Ted Gest, 

Regarding Tad DiBiase's tale of woe about camping out for a child's space at Oyster School: I sympathize. We had the same problem with Pre-K at Lafayette Elementary School in the late 1980s. Some parents suggested a lottery, but others complained that would negate the effort made by those who chose to camp out. People could just waltz into an 8 a.m. lottery, the argument went, and have the same chance as someone who otherwise would have chosen to brave the elements. I headed a Home & School Association Committee that recommended a 6 a.m. lottery, which at least would make parents make the effort to get up early. That was rejected by the then-principal. I don't recall whether DC school policies were cited as the reason, but I think one rationale was that space in a public school shouldn't be subjected to a game of chance -- first-come, first-served was deemed fairer. But one question: our registration back then was in April, when at least the weather was warmer. Why does this one have to be in January?


Camping Out at Oyster
Rick Cohen, 

The system of camping out at Oyster is, as one of your correspondents noted, ludicrous and unfair. It not only discriminates against people who have to work on weekends (many of whom might be lower income than the organized coterie of Mt. Pleasant families that seem to dominate the Oyster assault), but also against single-parent households who have to take care of their kids instead of time-sharing spots in the Oyster line. It also discriminates against families who aren't "in the know" as much as others, which last year meant that some families with better knowledge than others were camped out much earlier than anyone might have imagined necessary. Plenty of people showed up late, so to speak, and discovered that they should have been freezing their butts off several evenings earlier. People who say that spending time in line demonstrates dedication to bilingual education for their kids simply ignore all the factors that make many other bilingually dedicated people miss the opportunity for Oyster. Sure, more money for bilingual schools or even bilingual classrooms would be great and is ultimately necessary, but it doesn't answer the question for families who are disadvantaged by the DCPS Darwinist system for getting out-of-boundary admission to the Oyster School.


One Reason Some Cab Drivers Oppose Meters
Paul Michael Brown, 

Hopped into a cab at the Old Ebbitt Grille last Friday night, with $8 tucked into my shirt pocket for the two zone trip to my hip Capitol Hill condo. ($6.90 for the fare, plus $1.10 for tip.) During the ride, I asked the driver his position on meters. Like others before him, he opposed them. But he gave a reason I hadn't heard before: “Most drivers won't admit this, but they like zones because it's so easy to hide trips.” He went to explain a scam endemic to all businesses that deal strictly in cash: skimming. The driver purposely fails to record some of his trips on the handwritten log. Instead he pockets the cash and the tax man is none the wiser.

To my mind, the practice of skimming by cabbies is good for the those of us who use taxis because it encourages more people to become drivers by increasing their take home pay, and that results in an increased availability of cabs. In simple terms, under the zone system the government is indirectly subsidizing the taxi system. As a result, in the District cabs are relatively cheap and plentiful. To my mind, this is another reason to eschew meters.


Taxi Meters
Phill Wolf, 

Victoria McKernan wrote, “Why is the only choice for taxis between a bad zone map or potentially abusive meters? Hello — what have all you computer nerds out there been doing all this time...?” Glad you asked. With zones, cabbies gamble on traffic; with meters, it is the riders who gamble. One party gets a fair deal ride-by-ride, and the other makes it up in volume. Both schemes leave room for cheats. Computer nerds like to build brokers that bring disparate parties together, and yet let each party play the game its own way, irrespective of the other's arrangements. Is that clear? Here's how it might work with Washington's taxis.

Riders will sign up with a Taxi Mediation Organization (TMO); they'll join a "zones plan," a "metered" plan, or any other gimmicky plan the TMO may offer. The indigent can apply their e-benefit to whichever plan gets them the farthest. Meanwhile, the TMOs will contract, mainly non-exclusively, with individual cabbies on a mutually agreeable basis, perhaps zones or salary or meters (and, if meters, then meters of what exactly?). Everybody — rider and cabbie — can choose for himself or herself how much bad-traffic risk to accept and how much to leave to the TMO. Oh, how fine a taxi system administered by computer nerds would be. Want a cab? Just point your cab fob at the sky. Want a discount? While the ride away listening to ads on the TMO's loudspeakers. Green? Let the TMO taxi you to Metro and pick you up again at the other end of the tube (at exactly the right time). Rich? Pay your TMO extra each month for OnStar concierge service or XM Satellite Radio in any cab you ride. Economy-minded and adventuresome? Ride at a discount every Wednesday through Friday and 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sundays if you endure a “free gift” random ride to somewhere chosen by the TMO on Tuesday.

Month by month, some TMOs might gamble poorly and go bust, others might rake it in and gradually lose customers: the properly-regulated free market would save everyone from a fate dictated by bureaucrats and special interests.


“Incrementalism” and Thurgood Marshall's Strategy for Overturning Segregation
David Sobelsohn, 

I recommend that everyone read Richard Kluger's great book Simple Justice for themselves, something George LaRoche apparently has not done. Since we're going far afield from the specific issue of DC self-government, I will refrain from further elaboration.



Budget Hearing
Susie Cambria, 

What’s on the horizon for FY 2003? Briefing on the important budget issues facing the District in FY 2003. Hear from policy makers and fiscal experts on the issues that will impact the FY 2003 budget. Wednesday, February 6, noon - 2:00 p.m., 1616 P Street, NW, 7th floor conference room. There is limited parking on the street and in the parking garage; closest Metro stop is Dupont Circle. Panelists: Tommy Wells, Member, DC Board of Education, speaking about special education funding and spending issues; Ratio Blitzstein, Budget Director, Council of the District of Columbia, speaking from the Council perspective about what the Council anticipates; Ed Lazere, Executive Director, DC Fiscal Policy Institute (presenting an independent, analytical perspective on the current fiscal conditions); Rick Hayes, Special Assistant, Office of the Chief Financial Officer, speaking on the revenue side of the budget, including the tobacco settlement; Theodore Carter, Senior Advisor, Office of the Chief Financial Officer (invited), speaking about Medicaid spending across government agencies. The agenda is introductions, panel presentations, Q & A.

RSVP by February 4 to DC Action for Children,, 234-9404, 234-9108 fax. This briefing is sponsored by DC Action for Children, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Fair Budget Coalition, and Washington Council of Agencies.



The Fighting 54th Food and Clothing Drive Needs Your Help Now
Arthur H. Jackson, Jr., 

The Fighting 54th Public Service Organization is opening it's first community center in ward 8 next month, and needs donations of clothing, canned goods, office furniture, computers, and volunteers to help maintain the office and assist in picking up clothing and can good. If you can help contact Kenny Baker, 610-3094.



Job Opening at ZPG
Tim Cline, 

ZPG Campus Outreach Coordinator (2002), reports to National Field Director. ZPG's Campus Outreach Program is the resource for students and faculty concerned with population growth. We are working to raise awareness and take action on population issues on campuses across the country. Campus Outreach staff travel to college campuses to give presentations, conduct issue workshops, and train activists. We keep students and faculty informed and involved through electronic updates, action alerts, a Campus Activist Newsletter, and our website. Responsibilities: the Campus Outreach Coordinators will work as a part of a team to develop and maintain ZPG's Campus Outreach Program. S/he will: travel regularly to campuses, conferences, and outreach events concurrent with semester schedules; publicly represent and advocate the positions of ZPG; keep abreast of current issues; compose content for newsletters, electronic updates and the website; maintain correspondence with members of the program; and assist with other activities of the Field and Outreach Department as assigned. The Coordinators will work together to devise techniques and materials to be used in training student and faculty to increase awareness and action on population and related issues.

Qualifications: qualified applicants should be enthusiastic and dedicated to the mission of ZPG. Ability to work under pressure, in a team, and a good sense of humor are important. This position will involve extensive travel in the US. Applicants should also possess good communication skills, particularly writing and public speaking. Knowledge of Microsoft Word (Office), FileMaker Pro, Power Point, Internet applications (browser, E-mail etc.) and Spanish a plus. $25,000 - $28,000 depending on experience. Generous health, leave, and retirement benefits included. Equal Opportunity Employment. Send cover letter expressing your interest in position, resume, two writing samples (3-5 pages), three reference names, title and phone numbers (not written references) to: Campus Coordinator Opening: C/o ZPG 1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 320, Washington, DC 20036.


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